I didn’t always run a shop. For years I was in senior management, auditing for a multi-national. But I fell out with the company on ethical grounds. I found I could no longer work for an organisation that put profit before ethics. So, I resigned. It gave me plenty of time to think about where I went from there….
It was about that time that I got a call from a family friend who ran a small food store. He was in tears, desperate for help. The bailiffs were at his home with a warrant to collect his outstanding council tax bill or remove goods to cover the debt. He was a father of six, trying to do the best by his family and my heart went out to him. I went to his house and paid the bailiffs the money (around £650).
But my friend was caught in a cycle, with much of his debt the result of money owed to him by restaurants he was supplying. He couldn’t pay his suppliers so they stopped sending the goods. He also had difficulty in covering the shop’s rent. My family was on good terms with some of his wholesale suppliers as well as his landlord, so my father asked me to speak to them. I managed to get his suppliers and landlord to agree to extend his credit terms.
But the poor man had neither capital nor time to reinvent his business. He decided to fold. All the time, his debts were increasing, I felt responsible. I couldn’t just walk away. So I agreed to take over his business debts, and try to collect whatever money was due to him. Surely with the right management and further financial injection we could turn the shop round. That was my original goal. Then simply sell the shop as a going concern to recover whatever I’d invested. I renamed the business Al-Amin, the nickname meaning “just’ or ‘fair one’ given to me by my late grandfather back in Kenya.
He was a devout Muslim, and a giant within our community, I’d certainly never seen myself as a shopkeeper, but I soon realised that I enjoyed being my own boss, and loved working with the public. I had unwittingly found my ideal occupation!
Every morning I woke up looking forward to the day. Most important, I was at last free to operate on an ethical basis. My brother Aahmer joined me and with the rest of my family, we set out the store’s policy. We wouldn’t promote any item which is harmful or results in harm to an individual or society. Out went the cigarettes, alcohol, and lottery tickets.
We’d promote local interests and businesses. We’d take the environment into consideration; make a difference to the lives of others. We’d put people before profit.
Building on the theme ‘the melting pot of cuisine and culture’, within six months, we completely changed the little grocery’s stock. People certainly responded and Al-Amin developed a wide and wonderful customer base. I can now say that most of my customers are my friends. Many will drop by and discuss personal issues with me, the loss of a loved one, or a relationship break-up. I feel humbled that they feel they can do this.
Today Al-Amin’s clientele are students, pensioners, housewives, local traders, masters of some of the Cambridge colleges including Nobel Prize winner Professor Amartya Sen who introduced micro-credit for the poor, allowing thousands of Asian women to set up their own businesses. Professor Sen would come in with his family and stock up on Bengali hilshah fish, dahl pulses, chillies, and turmeric, curry leaves… Any success I’ve had comes first and foremost from Almighty God who has guided and equipped me with the resources to deal with the challenges I face. None of it would be possible without unconditional support from members of my extended family, in particular my wife, my brother Aahmer and my parents.